Article XVIII

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, we’re going to be continuing our look at the topic of Inerrancy and I believe of all the articles we have looked at, this one is likely to be the one most relevant to the Geisler-Licona situation. Article XVIII reads as follows:

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historicaI exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizlng, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

At the start, I wonder about the idea of “Scripture interprets Scripture.” A text is an instrumental means in this case but it is used by a person to interpret another text. One Scripture can help explain another Scripture but it cannot per se interpret that Scripture. Interpretation takes place in the mind and the text of Scripture has no mind. Of course the author of Scripture does, but the author is not the one interpreting here.

Also, do we exclude sources outside of Scripture? This is problematic as it assumes Scripture is written in a vacuum. Scripture at times points to other sources, unfortunately ones we don’t have, such as the Book of Jashar. It is apparent that whoever wrote 1 and 2 Kings used other sources as he frequently states when he says “Are not all the acts of X recorded in Y?”

Besides, unless we read Greek and Hebrew, we do have to rely on other sources. The words used came from somewhere. When Paul wrote his epistles, he did not have a big list of acceptable Greek words to use when writing Scripture. He used the language he knew. Of course, there were words he did create, but there were several he didn’t and it’s just fine to study other ancient literature to see what they meant.

It was claimed for a time, and still is by several, that the creation account in Genesis was a rip-off of other creation accounts and the same could be said of the flood. I do not hold this, but this does not mean they were not an influence. Could it be that the way to study Genesis could involve studying other creation accounts and seeing how the ancients used them? Perhaps, shock of shocks, we could get more out of Genesis not by studying modern science, but by studying ancient writings like Genesis! Maybe Genesis was written not to describe a scientific account but a more functional account.

Okay. So what about Geisler’s situation with Licona about dehistoricizing the text?

The problem is it assumes the text is historical to begin with. Now maybe it is. I’m open to that. It cannot be assumed however.

Licona regularly brings out that events that we would deem miraculous in nature often happened when great kings died in other writings of the time. Let us consider the following from Licona’s paper:

In what is certain poetic literature, Virgil reports sixteen
phenomena that occurred after Caesar’s death: prolonged darkness, dogs and
birds acted unusually, Etna erupted, fighting in the heavens was heard (a detail
that we saw has a parallel in the portents reported by Josephus prior to the
destruction of the temple), the Alps shook near Germany, a powerful voice was
heard in the groves, pale phantoms were seen at dusk, cattle spoke, streams
stood still, the earth opened up, ivory idols wept and bronze idols were sweating
in the shrines, dark intestines appeared outside of animals in their stalls, blood
trickled in springs, wolves howled, lightning appeared in a cloudless sky, and a
bright comet was seen.

The paper can be found here:

Now Geisler could accept that all of these are historical. That is his prerogative if he wishes to do so. However, let us suppose that he does not. Can Licona accuse him of dehistoricizing the text? No. He knows that the text is not meant to be seen as historical. Yet what will be the reason for saying it has to be historical in the Bible?

If we say, “It is because it is in the Bible” then we are simply begging the question. How will that be to a watchful world that thinks the way that conservative Christian scholars do biblical studies is to say “Well if the Bible says it, then it’s true.” This will be apparent especially when the case comes of supposed gods like Mithras and Horus and Dionysus who “die and resurrect.” Are they just not accepted because they’re not Bible?

Such argumentation will die the death of a thousand qualifications, especially if we tell people that they can study the Bible to see that it’s true and they can say “Well it says the exact same thing that is said about Mithras. Why do you believe the Bible instead?” “Because the Bible is historical.” “How do you know? “Because it’s the Bible.”

Note that this does not rule out the event being historical. It could be that these events that did not really happen at the death of an emperor were written as stories to give honor to the emperor, and yet when the Son of God dies, God makes some stories a reality to up the ante in favor of the honor of His Son. That is entirely possible.

The point is that frankly, we don’t have enough evidence for dogmatism either way. I consider Licona’s suggestion an area worthy of further research. We should study it more and I am sure that if Licona’s view is found to be faulty upon research, he will be the first one to abandon it. Let us study the suggestion however before deciding an answer.

“But the text is written as a narrative!” The same could be said for the accounts of the deaths of the Roman emperors. Also, despite whether one thinks Licona is right or wrong, does anyone really think that Licona is just blindly missing all these details that seem like a narrative? Looking over blog chats on this, it seems people actually think he is so foolish that he has not noticed that.

Also, this is not about belief in miracles, especially since Licona wrote a whole chapter on defending that historians can believe in miracles and allow them in their work and the whole book itself is to explain one miracle, the resurrection of Christ from the dead!

“Couldn’t someone say Christ’s resurrection is not historical?” Absolutely. But to do so, they must provide an explanation to all the counter-evidence Licona gives in the book. There is far more for that than for the Matthew 27 event. The problem is so many people are interpreting this as an all-or-nothing game. If Matthew 27 does not describe a historical event, then why can it not be that none of it is historical? This is the mindset we see in fundy atheists also.

“How do we know what’s what?” This is where we have to use a method not really familiar to a lot of Christians today called “Studying the text.” We actually just don’t sit down, pray, and expect the Holy Spirit to tell us everything that people spend years of scholarly research trying to figure out.

In looking at this whole situation, I’d like to present the argument in a way that shows why Licona is not denying Inerrancy. Look at this argument.

Matthew wrote the text and intended it to be historical.
Licona takes it as historical.
Licona is not denying Inerrancy.

No one has a problem with this one. It makes sense. Now let’s look at it this way.

Matthew wrote the text and intended it to be historical.
Licona takes it as apocalyptic.
Licona is denying Inerrancy.

Some people seem to think that this is what is going on, but the conclusion does not follow. Think of how many passages have people denying Inerrancy then.

Is Matthew 24 intended to be read in a Futurist or Preterist sense today?

Is Genesis to describe an old-earth or a young-earth?

Does Romans 9 describe a Calvinistic work or an Arminian one?

Does Hebrews 10 say salvation can be lost or not?

We could go on and on and on. There can be no doubt all of us have some wrong interpretations of the Bible. When that happens, we do not get the message the author intended. That does not mean we are ascribing error to the author. It means we are failing to understand the material. The problem is not with the material, but with us.

This is actually what needs to be the case for the above argument to work.

Matthew wrote the text and intended it to be historical.
Licona knows this, but says that the text is not historical.
Licona is denying Inerrancy.

In this case, then yes, Licona would be denying Inerrancy. He is ascribing error to Matthew at that point and Geisler wins the day. The reality is that Licona knows about Geisler’s reasons and does not find them sufficient. If someone does, so what? They have to be sufficient in Licona’s mind for him to be denying Inerrancy.

Also, just posting the ICBI statement will not work as some think. Regularly, it seems that on the net, someone will post the ICBI statement and think that settles it. To begin with, it doesn’t as this still assumes that Licona is dehistoricizing what is historical. Second, one can go against ICBI and still support Inerrancy. It is my understanding that Henry Morris would not sign the document since it allowed for old-earth views to be considered within Inerrancy. Does anyone want to state that Morris did not hold to Inerrancy? (And note by his standards that Geisler would be denying Inerrancy)

This also means the framers argument would be invalid. (Not to mention that Moreland and Yamauchi both say Licona is not denying Inerrancy) It assumes that ICBI is the final word on Inerrancy and to deny ICBI is to deny Inerrancy. Now by and large, I have no problem with ICBI, but I do have a problem with equating it with Inerrancy. People affirmed Inerrancy and knew what it meant before ICBI, much like they did the Deity of Christ before Nicea.

What needs to happen now? This whole thing needs to be buried. I would like to point out that Licona is not speaking the words of recanting, as Geisler and Mohler as well are. Instead, this is what Licona has said:

If Geisler were to apologize, I would embrace him and forget the entire matter. Nothing more need be said and we can all move on.

Right now on Geisler’s page, there is a call for this to go on and I applaud all those who are saying such. This has not been good for evangelicalism and it is time for it to come to an end with the realization that Licona is not denying Inerrancy.

We shall continue next time.